WASHINGTON – More than a decade after the Supreme Court upended campaign finance rules in a landmark case, the justices Monday hear arguments in a challenge to disclosure requirements that could make it easier for donors to spend anonymously.
At issue is a California mandate that nonprofits disclose their top contributors to state regulators. Two conservative groups, including one tied to Republican megadonor Charles Koch, say the state’s requirement violates the Constitution by subjecting the donors to threats of violence from political opponents and, thereby, chilling the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
The groups point to a landmark 1958 civil rights case in which the Supreme Court struck down a request by Alabama that the NAACP reveal its membership, a decision that required governments to weigh their need for information against the potential that its disclosure could make people nervous to join an advocacy group.
“Even though they’re saying the case had nothing to do with elections and is not about public transparency, if there’s a bad ruling here it could be leveraged to expand these exemptions from transparency in election spending,” said Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause. …
If the court applies that heightened standard groups advocating for stricter campaign finance laws fear the next lawsuit will challenge disclosure requirements for elections as well.
“If you’re going to expand those exemptions so broadly, then you’re going to really take away a lot of the transparency that we have in political disclosure laws,” Rotman said.
A decision in the case is expected in June.